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Fishing returns to Portage Creek

Milham Park
Leona Larson
A view of Portage Creek from a stone bridge in Milham Park, Kalamazoo.

It’s been decades since fishing was allowed along Portage Creek in Milham Park and Blanche Hull Park. Starting Friday, July 1, anyone with a fishing license can cast a line.

The soothing sound of Portage Creek burbling over rocks will soon include the sounds of fishing lines whizzing through the air as anglers cast their bait. Residents will be able to fish again at Milham Park and nearby Blanche Hull Park.

Here, the creek is relatively shallow and easily accessible through green spaces. For these reasons, it provides an opportunity for anglers of all ages. Kalamazoo City Parks and Recreation Director, Patrick McVerry, said it’s one of the positive outcomes of the creek restoration and removal of the Milhan Park Dam in 2021.

“That question was brought up, do you think fishing would ever be able to happen here again?” said McVerry, who researched it and worked with the city attorney and the Michigan Department of Resources for grant finding. “We all came to a resolution that we'd like to try and overturn the ordinance to allow people to fish, not only from a conservation standpoint, but also to allow kids that might not be exposed to fishing to have that opportunity.”

McVerry acknowledged that it might be disappointing year for anglers. He said they’ve seen some big carp under the bridges, but not much else.    

“Since the creek had the dam in place for such a long time, the aquatic life, and the temperature of Portage Creek let the creek suffer a little bit, so there wasn't anything that could really thrive,” said McVerry.

Fishing at Milham Park in the 1960s
From the Collection of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum.
The Kalamazoo Valley Museum
Over the years there have been exceptions to the city ban on fishing in Milham Park, as seen in this postcard from the 1960s. There are also newspaper accounts from the late 1950s on the results of a monthly fishing contest for children.

But that will soon change. McVerry said the state plans to stock Portage Creek with trout next year, which should make for some good fishing in the future, as long as you have a fishing license.

“Our hopes are that in the next couple of years with the stream restoration and the removal of the dam, that the temperature of the creek will lower, which would be a great habitat for trout and then other species as well.”

McVerry pointed to signs that wildlife along the creek has already beginning to thrive. The water is clearer, and a large flock of geese has made the creek its home, taking its time crossing over the road from one side of the creek to the other.

Along with fishing, McVerry said plans are underway to restore more of the creek, and a new playground will be installed in Milham Park, near the big picnic shelter.  

“A brand-new playground will be built there starting this fall, with hopeful completion by the end of October, beginning of November,” said McVerry. “All of that old play equipment will actually be taken out and we'll have great brand-new play equipment for all of the kids to use at the park.”

Milham Park is off E. Kilgore Road and Lover’s Lane in Kalamazoo. Blanche Hull Park is adjacent to it. The entrance and parking lot for Blanche Hull Park is off Burdick Street, near E. Kilgore Road.

Leona Larson (Gould-McElhone) was a complaint investigator with the Detroit Consumer Affairs Department when she started her media career producing and co-hosting Consumer Conversation with Esther Shapiro for WXYT-Radio in Detroit while freelancing at The Detroit News and other local newspapers. Leona joined WDIV-TV in Detroit as a special projects' producer and later, as an investigative producer. She spent several years teaching journalism for the School of Communications at Western Michigan University. Leona prefers to use her middle name on air because it's shorter and easier to pronounce.